Arsenal are moving slowly in the right direction, says Paul Merson, with the fact that it “didn’t look like Arsene Wenger was in charge” for the first half of their derby defeat to Chelsea considered to be the “biggest compliment” that can be paid to Mikel Arteta.
A Spanish tactician finds himself back at Emirates Stadium three years after bringing his playing career to a close on the Gunners’ books.
A sizeable challenge has been taken on by a managerial rookie, with Arteta filling one of the most demanding Premier League posts at just 37 years of age.
His opening two games have delivered just one point, with Arsenal collecting one win from their last 15 games in all competitions, with faults of the recent past still needing to be put right.
Merson saw signs of encouragement in a 2-1 reversal against Chelsea, with the Gunners bursting out of the blocks in a manner which has not been seen by north London natives for some time.
The former Arsenal forward told Sky Sports of a new regime: “For the first half against Chelsea, it didn't look like Arsene Wenger was in charge. And that's the biggest compliment I can give.
“They worked their socks off, but were never going to keep that up for 90 minutes, because they haven't done that in 10 years. That high pressure, closing down, Chelsea couldn't get out or put two or three passes together.
“You looked at Arsenal in that first half and thought: 'Well this is Arteta's team'. He'd got them closing down. But obviously, they were going to fade. Chelsea took advantage of that, and fair play to them.
“As time goes on, however, and Arteta looks to place his stamp on the team, there are some bright sparks to take. The fitter they get, and the more they understand that closing-down game, I think they'll be alright, and I was quite impressed.
“Arteta has been around one of the best, and he has that way of talking. He's not going to come in and start effing and blinding.”
Arteta cut his coaching teeth alongside Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.He has now stepped out on his own and will see his credentials tested to the fullest once again on New Year’s Day when Arsenal take in a home date with old adversaries Manchester United.